Cambodia’s ruling party has issued a statement echoing comments made earlier this week by Prime Minister Hun Sen, denying that the country blocked a joint statement on the South China Sea after lobbying from China.
Asean’s charter states that member countries cannot interfere in the internal affairs of their neighbors, which has led to support for direct bilateral negotiations over specific conflicts in the disputed waters.
Cambodia, along with Myanmar and Laos, at the last minute reportedly changed their position on a statement that was due to be issued by the bloc following a meeting of its foreign ministers in China.
The Associated Press reported the statement was set to express “serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments” and cited a Philippine diplomat claiming Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos had withdrawn their support for the statement so as not to offend China.
On Wednesday, the Cambodian People’s Party issued a statement again denying this claim, saying that Cambodia “respects the principle of non-interference of internal affairs, principle of consensus, economic integration, development, and engagement, and use ASEAN as a political gateway for cooperation in the region and the world.”
The statement added that Cambodia would not support a verdict in favor of the Philippines filed by the Southeast Asian nation in 2013 regarding waters in dispute with China.
As chair of Asean in 2012, Cambodia played a similar role in blocking efforts by the Philippines and others to mention naval confrontations with China. It was the first time the foreign ministers’ meeting ended without the issuance of a joint statement in the bloc’s 45-year history.
Yim Sovann, an opposition parliamentarian, declined to comment.
Kem Ley, a former analyst who founded his own political party this year, said it was understandable that Cambodia might side with China in the dispute, as it is Cambodia’s largest provider of aid and loans.